2013-02-21 / Front Page

Archaeologists searching for long-lost Wilkes fort, Revolutionary-era items

By Kip Burke
news editor

Archaeologists Daniel T. Elliott and Rita Folse Elliott show off some of the artifacts their team recovered over the last two weeks while searching for a Wilkes County frontier fort near Little Beaverdam Creek. Archaeologists Daniel T. Elliott and Rita Folse Elliott show off some of the artifacts their team recovered over the last two weeks while searching for a Wilkes County frontier fort near Little Beaverdam Creek. A team of archaeologists has been searching for Carr’s Fort, a longlost Wilkes County Revolutionary War battle site near the betterknown Kettle Creek battlefield, and although they say they haven’t definitely located the fort’s site, they feel their recent research has brought them much closer.

“We’ve searched 1,100 acres near the north fork of Little Beaverdam Creek,” team leader Daniel Elliott said. “The land was definitely on property the Carr family owned, and we found three archaeological sites that seemed to date to the Revolutionary period. We’ve collected quite a few museum-quality artifacts from the sites, and one of those sites may prove to be the fort.”

The artifacts recovered range from three dozen horseshoes to thimbles, cast-iron kettles, hinges, nails, a padlock, a drill bit for boring through logs, but only a few musket balls. “We would expect to find a much larger number of musket balls if we had found the site of the fort,” he said.

The search has been like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, Elliott said, because no maps show its location, and no detailed written descriptions of the fort’s location have yet been found. “It could be anywhere along Beaverdam Creek, although historian Robert Scott Davis Jr., who has researched the fort for 40 or 50 years, has helped us narrow the scope of the search considerably.”

Searching along Beaverdam Creek and Little Beaverdam Creek is only the first phase of the effort, he said, and it couldn’t have been done without the cooperation of local landowners. “We got permission to search some 10,000 acres along the creeks. Local landowners were very cooperative.”

Some landowners were concerned that if the fort location were found, their land would be taken by the government, Elliot said, but that would not happen. “Preservation efforts are limited to battlefields, not the site of an old fort,” he said. “There were more than 30 frontier forts in Wilkes County.”

After Elliott’s team maps the location of the artifacts they’ve found with metal detectors, team members hope to return and use other methods, including ground-penetrating radar, traditional excavations, and mapping to define the fort’s location. The action at Captain Robert Carr’s Patriot fort preceded the 1779 Battle of Kettle Creek by just four days. The Patriot fort was invaded by a group of about 70 recruits who had, under threat of death, sworn allegiance to the British crown. Later that day, February 10, the fort was surrounded by a Patriot militia force led by Colonel Andrew Pickens, and the Georgia and South Carolina Patriots laid siege to the fortified loyalists, taking all their horses and supplies.

A few hours into the siege, Col. Pickens heard that a much larger party of Loyalists was approaching the area from South Carolina, and he ended the siege of Carr’s Fort to pursue the bigger force. Four days later, his Patriots and others caught up with the Loyalist forces at Kettle Creek and attacked them, winning a significant victory that discouraged the British from staying in Wilkes County.

Several weeks later, Captain Carr was killed by a war party of loyalist Creek Indians, who burned down the fort, Elliott said. “His family escaped, and the Carr descendants owned the surrounding land for years. Although the land has been farmed for years and planted in pine trees for decades, metal artifacts usually stay in place, although they’re invisible without metal detectors. We found lots of handmade iron and brass articles from that era, and all the artifacts tell a story.”

Even if the site of the fort isn’t found, Elliott said, the team’s efforts will have produced a solid picture of where people lived in that part of Wilkes County in 1779. “Wilkes County was very well populated at that time, but they were spread out all over in farms,” he said. “That may be our biggest contribution – mapping the landscape and the old road traces that are part of the story.”

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